Zeus Predicts that Broncos Will Win

Peyton Manning to take out the Seahawks?

Peyton Manning taking aim at the Seattle Seahawks?

Sports Saturday (Tuesday edition)

I am no reader of bird entrails but I believe that a passage in the Odyssey predicts that the Denver Broncos will defeat the Seattle Seahawks in the upcoming Super Bowl. Hear me out as I explain. (Full disclosure: I am a Peyton Manning fan.)

In the second book of the Odyssey, Zeus sends his prediction through an aerial battle between two seahawks (two eagles, actually, but let’s not get technical). Telemachus has called a town meeting to complain about his mother’s suitors, who are eating him out of house and home, and the assembly witnesses the following:

Now Zeus who views the wide world sent a sign to him,
launching a pair of eagles from a mountain crest
in gliding flight down the soft blowing wind,
wing-tip to wing-tip quivering taut, companions,
till high above the assembly of many voices
they wheeled, their dense wings beating, and in havoc
dropped on the heads of the crowd—a deathly omen—
wielding their talons, tearing cheeks and throats;
then veered away on the right hand through the city.
Astonished, gaping after the birds, the men
felt their hearts flood, foreboding things to come.
And now they heard the old lord Halithersês,
son of Mastor, keenest among the old
at reading birdflight into accurate speech;
in his anxiety for them, he rose and said:

“Hear me, Ithakans! Hear what I have to say,
and may I hope to open the suitors’ eyes
to the black wave towering over them. Odysseus           

will not be absent from his family long:
he is already near, carrying in him
a bloody doom for all these men, and sorrow
for many more on our high seamark, Ithaka.
Let us think how to stop it; let the suitors
drop their suit; they had better, without delay.
I am old enough to know a sign when I see one,
and I say all has come to pass for Odysseus
as I foretold when the Argives massed on Troy,
and he, the great tactician, joined the rest.           

My forecast was that after nineteen years,
many blows weathered, all his shipmates lost,
himself unrecognized by anyone,
he would come home. I see this all fulfilled.”

I think we can safely read the first level of meaning as the triumph of the Seattle Seahawks over the San Francisco 49ers. As San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick will testify after a fumble and two interceptions, the Seahawk secondary wielded their talons Sunday, “tearing cheeks and throats.”

But the second level of interpretation involves the return of an aging king, which applies more to Manning than to anyone on the Seattle team. Perhaps Zeus is signaling to the crowd that Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson is about to be exposed as the second-year upstart that he is. Only Peyton  is worthy of the Penelope/Lombardi trophy.

The new generation of quarterbacks, like the suitors, may seem to rule the roost. Many sports commentators are proclaiming Wilson, Kaepernick, Cam Newton, RGIII, Andrew Luck, Nick Foles, Jake Locker, Ryan Tannehill, and others to be the new face of the NFL. Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, old drop back quarterbacks, seem like ancient history.

And in truth, it appeared that, after his four neck surgeries, Manning might well be spending the rest of his life on Calypso’s (Ashley Manning’s) island. Then, however, Zeus sends a messenger reminding “the great tactician” that he is still king of Ithaka and has a responsibility to venture out on treacherous seas and reclaim his throne. As Zeus puts it,

Could I forget that kingly man, Odysseus?
There is no mortal half so wise; no mortal
gave so much to the lords of open sky.

Read psychologically, Zeus represents the internal sense of higher ambition that spurs Odysseus to heroic heights. In Manning’s case, it was the drive to come back and compete, even though it appeared he might never recover his arm strength.

In all fairness, I should add that the suitors have their own interpretation of the eagles. Here is Eurymakhos:

Old man, go tell the omens for your children
at home, and try to keep them out of trouble.
I am more fit to interpret this than you are.
Bird life aplenty is found in the sunny air,
not all of it significant. As for Odysseus, 
he perished far from home. You should have perished with him— 
then we’d be spared this nonsense in assembly…

Zeus may have spoken but we each interpret him according to our own desires. Therefore, I can’t entirely rely on Halithersês the Greek to correctly predict the outcome of the Super Bowl. Still, wouldn’t it be something to have a 37-year-old hero from the past come striding back to reclaim the championship trophy?

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  • Dan Hardebeck

    Hello Dr. Bates,

    Congratulations on another wonderful installment in the “Football as vehicle for the explication of literature” series. I have been a great fan of these essays for some years now – and I cannot thank you enough for their wit and insight regarding two of my life’s great passions. In fact, your essay, “Romanticism, Classicism and Football” from 2010 is required reading in the high school Advanced Placement English class that I teach; the students enjoy the essay and it is very effective for showing them real-world application for the concepts of romanticism and classicism. The quote by Edna St. Vincent Millay becomes astonishingly “real” to my students in the context of two great, opposing quarterbacks.

    Which leads me to hope…that perhaps next week you might consider revisiting that blog post from 2010? Because as a Washington State resident and lifelong Seahawks fan, I believe that Peyton Manning has now found a romantic foil of greater proportions even than Brett Favre – a free-wheeling spirit who has stirred even greater debate, and provides a more marked classicist-romantic contrast than even Favre. I speak of course, of Richard Sherman. I would be thrilled to no end if you would consider addressing the subject of “Romanticism, Classicism and Football” once again, but this time with Sherman cast as the romantic.

    I know this is a presumptuous request and I apologize for the boldness, but I suppose I’m just a romantic going for the grand gesture.


    Dan Hardebeck,
    Timberline High School, Lacey, WA

  • Robin Bates

    Not presumptuous at all, Dan. You’re right to call me out on my blind fandom of Peyton. And you’re right about Richard Sherman, who fascinates me. He is absolutely right about calling out people for their use of the word “thug.” He’s reminding me of some of the pushback against authority by the Beats in the 1950’s, a freelance artist who brilliantly improvises. Framing the narrative that way, Peyton becomes not the venerable king returning to reclaim his rightful place but the suffocating monarch who won’t let youth flourish. Ideas are coming to me as I write this reply. I promise you a post on Sherman.

    I sometimes see sports as much a war of narratives off the field as human bodies on it.


  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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